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Is The Cost of Drama School Putting too much Financial Pressure on Young Aspiring Actors?

The cost of drama school

Photo courtesy of James Garside from Birmingham Ormiston Academy’s production of Little Women

If you flip through the pages of your theatre programmes, whether it is a musical or a stage play, each actor’s headshot and information clearly states which drama school they received training from. Many of the same drama schools pop up, Arts Educational School, Guildford School of Acting, Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, Bird College of Dance, Urdang Academy, Laine Theatre Arts. Naming merely a few, these drama schools are exceptionally competitive to gain a place at.

I spoke to many students off to various drama schools and industry professionals about the costs involved with going to drama school. With competition at a high, these students have spent the last year battling it out against thousands of other talented students all over the world for their places in top drama schools. With places scarcer than those at Oxbridge they’ve gone through the rigorous auditions and secured their place, they now face the extortionate costs of tuition fees and living in and around London.

Not only are the costs for drama schools high, just the attempt to get a place at one has cost these students hundreds of pounds. Drama schools charge students to attend an audition and if they receive a recall they are also charged for that too. With auditions costing from around £30-£50 pounds and recalls a bit higher, from the students I spoke to the average cost of attending auditions, travel and overnight stay if their auditions were early in the morning, set them back around £400.

It appears apparent that most people agree that drama school isn’t very accessible for low income families, Olivia Hibbert who received a DaDa (Dance and drama award) to help fund her place at Arts Educational School says “If I hadn’t been awarded a DaDa I would never have been able to go. It is great that they do this funding to help out students but they aren’t awarded to everyone.” Alex Cardall who is also attending Arts Educational School in September told me “It states on some of their application forms that if you can’t afford the course, don’t apply. It’s a huge issue that means so much talent slips through the fingertips of the schools.”

Louise Francis who will be going to Guildford School of Acting (GSA) in September, a renowned drama school that is also linked to The University of Surrey which means she is eligible for a student loan, believes “there is so much expense involved which I believe would put immense pressure on a low income family.” She is very grateful to be able to go to a top drama school and not have to deal with that financial pressure as she receives a loan to cover both her fees and living costs.

I spoke to Michael Moor, head of Musical Theatre at Guildford School of Acting and he believes that GSA is very accessible for low income families “GSA students have the opportunity to complete their studies with a student loan.  In addition GSA has a number of bursaries available – including the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation Scholarship.”

Drama school students have to sacrifice a lot in order to fund their places and their lives in September. With most drama school hours being 8:30am until 6pm Monday to Friday, they lack flexibility in their hours to get a job. As they are about to embark on this huge change they have had to prepare financially. Olivia told me that despite the fact she is receiving a DaDa to go towards her fees, “my dad is also having to get another job to help me out, which I am most thankful for.”

Many people were in a similar predicament to George Tomlinson who will be studying at Bird College of Dance, he also received a place on the diploma at Urdang Academy but because the course wasn’t a degree, he wasn’t eligible for a student loan and therefore turned the place down.

After enduring all the costs of training, these young people are then in an unstable career, jobs in theatre only last as long as the run, therefore it’s inevitable they will be in and out of jobs and may experience financial insecurity. I asked George if he was worried about this and he said “It absolutely terrifies me, my passion and love for performing will help drive me through those situations and I couldn’t dream of doing anything else with my life despite the financial struggles I will face.”

Tricia Wilkins who will be studying on the degree course at Urdang Academy is very fortunate to receive a student loan and a scholarship but she still worries about her financial situation when she graduates from drama school “it is a very inconsistent industry until you manage to crack it and get your big break.”

Private drama schools are considerably more expensive than ones linked to a university, for example Arts Educational School is around £13,500 a year. I asked these students if they thought drama school was worth the money, Alex said “Arts Ed has a 100% agent employment and 70% of this years graduates from Arts are already in London based shows, I’d say the training and the place speak for itself.”

With the rise of popstars and X Factor stars becoming leading roles in West End musicals, I questioned whether drama school is necessary in order to have a successful career in the arts. Alex believes “drama school creates the best position to be in and puts you ahead of the game with those who haven’t.” Tricia finds it frustrating that these stars walk straight into top West End roles “I do find it a shame sometimes, especially when there are students that have competed for these places at drama schools and experienced the intensive training in all three disciplines.”

Private drama schools like Arts Educational School and Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts are highly prestigious schools and have very high success rates but unless students recieve a scholarship they are only available to students with a higher household income.

Whereas schools linked to a university such as Guildford School of Acting and Bird College of Dance are equally as successful yet students are eligible for a student loan. I asked Michael Moor head of GSA the advantages of GSA being linked to a university, he told me “when I first came to GSA in 2004 , GSA was a private drama school, I believe that there is less anxiety now regarding money and day to day living . Student services and other university student welfare services at the University Of Surrey support and help the students, through both financial and emotional problems. There is also academic support that GSA could not have afforded when it was a small private drama school.”

Louise who is attending GSA next year said “I believe that the high level of training provided at GSA is no different to that of a private drama school.”

All these drama schools are highly reputable and provide excellent training for these future stars of the stage. However for young people it is a lot of financial pressure on both themselves and their families in order to achieve their dream careers in the arts.

I personally think that all students studying at degree level, even if the drama school is private, should be elegible for a full student loan just like every other student studying any subject around the country.

The arts are so important and there are so many campaigns about seeing diversity on the stage, which means actors from all kinds of backgrounds. If drama schools carry on like this, a career in the arts will only be accessible for privileged and wealthier aspiring actors.

We need more funding for the arts, more scholarships available and less financial stress on these young people that work so hard in order to pursue their dreams to be on stage.

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